Urban Studies Challenges the School of Political Science at Cairo University

Abeer Youness

The structure of the Cairo Urban Transformation workshop has challenged what I have been studying in the school of political science in terms of content and methodology. Regarding content, urban studies is usually part of the school of engineering or the field of public administration in terms of decentralisation, whereas the school of political science at Cairo University emphasises theory and approaches tackling the relation between the state and society. The effectiveness of the state has therefore been the core question of work produced and studied in the school of political science and it might well be a legacy of colonisation and the subsequent independence process that has led to this orientation. The point of departure in the workshop, on the contrary, is society and the question how interactions among individuals could combat or reformulate the role of the state according to societal needs and interests. The content of the workshop accordingly renovates the essential role of society in forming the state and in defining its regulations.

Campus Cairo University

On a methodological level, the school’s focus on the role of the state leads to qualitative and quantitative methods as the main tools to investigate society’s reaction toward national policies. Yet, various difficulties have challenged the quality of these methods due to the modest rate of human development in Egypt. Traditionally, scientific research starts with a theory or concept; the researcher is trying to test or apply these theories and indicators to their respective case study. In contrast, the workshop’s methodology is based on a ‘dérive’ that aims to explore the research problem and to define the possible aspects of the case study; the methodological techniques are considered only then and present the necessary means to arrive at answers and to refine the outcomes of the research. Applying the method of the ‘dérive’ in political sciences enables to better understand actual societal interactions and the effectiveness of national policies from the standpoint of those who experience them. After the revolution, it became necessary to change the orientation of the school of political science.

Ignoring and misunderstanding the real societal dynamics among individuals and between individuals and the state partly explain why the school failed to predict the eruption of the revolution and to provide tangible alternatives to manage the transitional period.